tiresI’m always fascinated by the “1 percent solutions” to energy. It seems to me that in order to address both climate change and fossil fuel dependence, we’ll need a few big structural changes, but we’ll also need a lot of 1 percent solutions — and maybe a bunch of quarter-percent solutions too. And the advantage of the 1 percent solutions is that they’re often exceedingly easy; and so cheap that they actually put money in your pocket.

So I enjoyed Cindy Skrzycki’s column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer this morning on low rolling resistance tires:

A study by the National Academies of Science in 2006 concluded it was feasible to reduce rolling resistance by 10 percent. This would increase the fuel economy of vehicles by 1 percent to 2 percent, saving up to 2 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel annually. Michelin said that over the past 15 years its energy-saving tires have reduced fuel consumption worldwide by about 2.38 billion gallons, compared with conventional tires.

Easy, right? The problem is, there’s very little opportunity for consumers to evaluate the fuel-efficiency of tires (as Clark once discovered). Not only is there no rating system in place, but a national standard has actually been banned by Congress since 1996.

No kidding:

The congressional ban, first passed in 1996, said there could be no federal rule adding to existing grading standards that would require a certain level of fuel efficiency.

A 1998 Senate report explained that the prohibition covered “any rulemaking which would require that passenger car tires be labeled to indicate their low rolling resistance, or fuel-economy characteristics.”

That’s very helpful. Thanks, Congress.

Luckily, there’s good news just around the corner. Congress has shifted gears and is now demanding a consumer-information program in place by next year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should have a rule in place by the end of 2009, though it’s not clear when consumers will actually see the information in a standardized way.